PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM
With barely a chance to draw breath since the thrilling conclusion of the 10th ProTour event, Sunday's Lige-Bastogne-Lige, the next race in the series kicks off tonight with the start of the Tour of Romandie. Won for the past two years by recently banned former Phonak rider Tyler Hamilton, this year's five-day stage race through French-speaking Switzerland brings together many of the riders who will be hoping to make an impact at the Giro d'Italia, the start of which is now just 11 days away.
The race starts with the traditional short and technical prologue through the streets of old Geneva this evening (Tuesday). Brad McGee won this stage last year and the Australian will be among the contenders again tonight. Among those likely to push McGee for the prologue win are T-Mobile's Olaf Pollack, second on this stage last year, and Phonak's Alexandre Moos, who was fourth.
However, picking a winner of the overall title next Sunday is slightly more tricky given the high quality of the field. Most of the 20 teams have at least one of their biggest stage racing names lining up here, and the final decision on GC is likely to be in doubt until the 20km time trial in Lausanne that concludes the event on Sunday.
Among those racing whose form should be watched to gauge their prospects for the Tour of Italy are defending Giro champion Damiano Cunego, Italian champion Cristian Moreni, Discovery Channel's Paolo Savoldelli, past Giro winner Stefano Garzelli, and three-time Tour de France podium finisher Joseba Beloki, whose illness-affected 2005 season should finally get under way in a serious manner this week.
Most of those riders should come to the fore in Friday and Saturday's summit finishes. Other names that should feature include Rabobank's Denis Menchov, Saunier Duval's Fabian Jeker, who was second overall last year, Davitamon-Lotto's Maurico Ardila, a stage winner at the Tour of Lower Saxony last week, Quick Step's Patrik Sinkewitz, Liberty's Alberto Contador and Gerolsteiner's Davide Rebellin.
Two flatter stages on Wednesday and Thursday will be no less competitive given the calibre of sprinters lining up. Alessandro Petacchi, Mario Cipollini, Robbie McEwen, Tom Steels and Max van Heeswijk are the pick of them.
Prologue: Geneva, 3.4km
1: Avenches-Avenches, 166.9km
2: Fleurier-Fleurier, 171.9km
3: Aigle-Anzre, 146.5km
4: Chatel St Denis-Les Paccots, 146.9km
5: Lausanne time trial, 20.4km
- Joseba Beloki admits that he is going to Romandie looking to gain racing fitness after the best part of two months out of competition. The race evokes happy memories for the Liberty rider, who was second here in 2000. "It was where I also won my first professional race," he recalled. "The route seems very similar to that year and it is very important for me to be back, although my state of form is completely different."
Beloki is hoping that a good five days in Romandie and a good opening week at the Giro will set him up for some competitive performances in the Giro's latter stages, and he has his eye in particular on the Florence time trial in week two. "I would like to be near the top of the classification there," says the Basque, whose long-term goal is still the Tour de France.